That line of thinking (which, unfortunately, almost all of us slip into at one point or another) is pretty much a guaranteed recipe for injury.
Here’s the hard truth: you probably can complete most workouts with bad form and limited mobility. In fact, you can probably go on doing that for a while, and there’s a good chance that you won’t feel any pain along the way.
But then, one day after a workout, you’ll realize that something doesn’t feel right. Your lower back seems abnormally tight, or you have a dull ache in your rotator cuff. And as the pain intensifies, you slowly realize that you’re going to have to deal with the misery of MRIs, chiropractors’ offices, second opinions, CrossFit forums, and the host of other hoops to jump through to rehab your injury—an injury that, almost certainly, was entirely preventable.
We get it: working on mobility sucks. It’s not nearly as fun as throwing around barbells. But it’s a necessary evil, and one in which you’ll be glad you invested time. Just spending 10 minutes before and after class to address some stability and flexibility issues will bring about a host of benefits.
While everyone’s body is different and has slightly different areas requiring direct attention, there are a few mobility exercises that just about everyone can benefit from doing. (If you want to find out what your most urgent mobility needs are, meet with a coach!)
#1 Myofascial Release
Tightness and knots are unavoidable side effects of breaking down and rebuilding muscles. However, you can counter the limited range of motion and stiffness that come with them by engaging in myofascial release, which basically means massaging your muscles. Foam rolling and lacrosse ball work fall into this category, as does simply using your knuckles and hands to work tight muscles. Not only does this improve muscle function, but it will also reduce the soreness you feel in the days after a workout. Hell yeah!
Try rolling out your lats, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and IT band before and after every class. If you have time to hit more, great. You really cannot overdo this kind of soft tissue work. However, keep in mind that while foam rolling should be uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be excruciating. Don’t kill yourself, kid.
#2 Squatting mobility
Even in badass gyms like South Beach Boxing, one is bound to occasionally see sub-par squatting technique. This fundamental movement requires a level of mobility that most humans, unfortunately, have lost through years of office chairs, poor posture, and general mobility negligence. It is important to address all of the mobility issues involved in squatting. Here are two simple stretches that are bound to improve your squatting mechanics.
A couch is seriously the best piece of equipment to do this stretch (a box or wall works almost as well, though.) If you’re sitting at home watching TV, you better believe that you’re going to do the couch stretch every 20 minutes for a minute each side. From now on. Forever. Even if there are other people on the couch. Tell them to move. Don’t apologize.
Assuming, however, that you’re doing this stretch in the gym, here’s how: back up against a wall (or box) and kneel. Place your rear leg as vertical as possible against it, and step forward with the other leg into a lunge. Your front knee should be bent at about 90 degrees. To increase the pressure, slowly drive forward with your hips. Remember to keep a braced, neutral spine throughout the stretch, and avoid letting your front knee bend too far forward. In case you forgot what it feels like to have your quad and hip flexors stretched, the couch stretch will quickly remind you. Hold for one minute on each side.
Think you may have tight hips? Well, we’re about to find out. The table stretch is a great way to open up your hips and improve your mobility in that crucial joint. Like the couch stretch, the table stretch works best with a piece of home décor: namely, a coffee table. For our purposes, however, a box will do just fine.
To perform the stretch, place a box (ideally 30”) in front of you. Place your front foot on the top of the inside edge of the box, and lay your shin down across the top. In order to benefit from this stretch, it’s crucial that your shin be parallel to the front and rear edge of the box—that is to say, perpendicular to your line of sight. If you don’t feel much of a stretch, try sinking your hips a little lower (while maintaining a neutral spine!) Hold for a minute before switching to the other side. This stretch will work your hips and glutes, both of which play a vital role in squatting mechanics.
Here’s the important take away: if you’re consistently performing movements in workouts with compromised form (don’t let your ego get in the way here), it’s only a matter of time until you find yourself injured. In fact, it’s important to bear in mind that performing movements (especially with weight or at high reps) with compromised form is probably doing your body more harm than good.
Intensity is awesome, and of course, a necessary element in any quality fitness program, but it’s vital to take the time to do the seemingly less intense, less fun work on the side to maintain your body’s function. If not, you’re likely to find yourself unable to train for some length of time because of an avoidable injury.